A Case For The 24-Hour People Sabbatical

Like most parents, I’m not often alone. Or rather, I should qualify that while yes, sometimes I travel alone for work or I’m alone working in my home office, I’m not really alone because I’m expected somewhere -- whether I’m dialing in to a meeting, organizing something, being in something, or getting the small people where they need to go. There are lots of moving pieces in life, and largely I’m good with that reality. I’m hugely grateful for the many wonderful people and opportunities in my life.

However, last week something really unusual happened, which I briefly noted in this Instagram post. School ended on Tuesday, and my beloved in-laws were itching for granddaughter time so I drove Laurel and Violet to them on Wednesday. A couple of hours later I fired up my podcast playlist for the two-hour ride home and Jon and I had a couple of days without the kids. On Friday morning Jon went to work and then headed down to visit with his parents overnight and bring the girls back Saturday after lunch.

I had work to do on Friday but remarkably, no meetings or conference calls. I initially contemplated scheduling a girls night, brunch plans, and/or a long overdue haircut during my alone time but ultimately decided to keep the decks totally clear.

It meant that I went 24 hours without speaking to anyone (save ordering take-out) and without being expected anywhere. I cannot remember the last time that has happened in the almost 12 years since becoming a parent.

And despite being a pretty social animal, it was truly eye opening. Not having any appointments in the calendar gave me the opportunity to pause and observe my natural rhythms and preferences, then choose what I wanted to do with intention. For example:

  • On Friday I worked until I got to a good stopping point with several projects and felt ready to shut down. It was 7pm. Typically I’m shutting down around 5pm in a rush to pick up Laurel or Violet and it was really wonderful to not be watching the clock (read: with the anxiety of forgetting to pick someone up) and to leave the work day not feeling anxious about unfinished business, despite the reality that I’ve always got plenty of unfinished work business.
  • I know there are a number of factors in play (the heat, only preparing food for one, etc.) but I realized how low maintenance I am food-wise when I’m on my own. I didn’t turn the stove or oven on for 3 days. I don’t think I even used the toaster. It was all yogurt and fruit and salad and roll up sandwiches for breakfast and lunches.
  • It became evident exactly how much I love Mexican food. I ate a lot of Mexican food during the 3 days my kids were away. Like, fish tacos two days in a row and a burrito on the third day.
  • One remarkable thing I observed was the decision making around transition points. On Friday night I knew I wanted said burrito and normally I’d hop in the car even though our local Mexican place is only 0.6 miles away because OMG THE RUSHING DURING THE END OF DAY/DINNER WINDOW. Even though I was pretty hungry (it was after 7pm by this point), I decided to call the order in and then walk to pick it up. Being able to choose my transition was pretty epic -- it was so wonderful to unwind from the work day with a walk.
  • Speaking of being hungry, I’m almost a little embarrassed to say this but it was really nice to eat when I was truly hungry, versus eating during the end of the day rush.
  • Also speaking of eating, I never usually eat in front of the TV but once I returned with my burrito, I thought, wow, it would be a real treat to watch Bloodline while I eat my burrito! Eating in front of the TV isn’t something I long to do, but it felt pretty fun at the end of a busy work week.
  • On Saturday morning, I was trying to decide on what physical activity to do. Typically I go for a run or do yoga but I decided to go for a bike ride, which felt like something I very much wanted to do but was a little more involved given that I needed to check the tires, figure out a route, etc. Translation: I’m not nearly as comfortable on a bike but I haven’t allocated the time to get more comfortable. I ended up riding for an hour, exploring parts of the bike path in Cambridge that I’ve been curious about running but have not wanted to run sight unseen. I have never spent an hour alone on my bike before and it was really incredible. I need to allocate more time to get comfortable on my bike!

I guess the bottom line is, whether or not you’re an introvert or extrovert, I’m making a case for the 24-hour (or even a 12-hour) people sabbatical. Obviously, relationships are hugely important, but what became evident to me over that 24-hour window was how important it is to choose windows of alone time so you can tune into your natural patterns and preferences and perhaps even learn about new things you enjoy (as I did with my biking experience) -- it’ll benefit you individually and in your relationships with your family. Ultimately, while I know I can’t carry all of my tendencies forward (to that point, I drafted this post with one eye on the clock for Violet’s pick up!), I think there are bits and pieces I can carve out and prioritize moving forward.

I know it’s hard. I know we all have a ton of demands on our time. I know that last week the privilege of partnership and in-laws in striking distance made my 24-hour people sabbatical possible. But there was also intention there -- to embrace being alone and resist the urge to schedule. That’s not easy in this era of jamming in as much as possible -- even when the stuff being jammed in is fun stuff -- but I’d argue that being alone helps you be better together.